Lewisham campaigners block three roads into city centre to highlight ‘air pollution crisis’
First published on Fri 14 Jun 2019
Environmental protesters stopped traffic on three main roads into central London from the south-east in protest over the “air pollution crisis” in the area.
The protesters, organised by a local chapter of the Extinction Rebellion group, blocked traffic on the A20 near Lewisham station, A205 South Circular in Catford and the A2 in Deptford during the morning rush-hour.
XR said the action was intended as the first in a series of disruptions in the area as part of a campaign called Let Lewisham Breathe. Protesters handed out leaflets and cake to apologise for the disruption caused on a main route into the centre of London.
Lorna Greenwood, who took part in the protest despite being nine months pregnant, said she and about 50 fellow activists – all from the local area – began their action at 7.30am.
“The idea was to stop traffic temporarily to put pressure on all of our politicians – Lewisham council, Sadiq Khan and the government – to confront the air pollution crisis,” she said. “There was some backlash but not as much as you would expect because people in the area know how bad the problem is.”
Levels of pollution in New Cross and Deptford are up to six times higher than World Health Organization guidelines, according to a recent study by researchers from Goldsmiths, University of London. Last year, Khan, the mayor of London, called air pollution in Lewisham a “health crisis”.Greenwood said: “Lewisham suffers really badly with air pollution so it’s at the forefront of everybody’s minds and it’s something that really unites people. It doesn’t matter what job you do or how old you are, people have to breathe the same air.”
At least one commuter was “very annoyed” by the disruption to her journey. Holly, 34, was stuck in a traffic jam outside Lewisham station after travelling in from Bexley, south-east London, for her childcare. She still had several miles to drive before she reached her final destination of Bromley.
She told the Press Association: “It’s backed up and I’ve been sat in it for more than half an hour. I’m definitely going to be late for work now.”
Graham, a resident of Lewisham who works in the public sector, said he supported the protest. He blamed queues and high numbers of traffic lights for pollution in the area.
“The traffic just idles here. There’s an air pollution cloud. You walk around and it’s disgusting,” he said. “They are slowly killing the people who live here by creating car parks in the city. If people could see the pollution they would do something about it. It’s killing people but nobody seems to care.”
Lewisham council’s cabinet member for environment and transport, Sophie McGeevor, said the authority was taking acting to improve air quality a number of initiatives.
“As one of the first councils in the country to declare a climate emergency, we share the same goal as Extinction Rebellion – to save the planet and clean up our air,” McGeevor said. “We want to go further and faster to meet this challenge, but with local government having gone through nearly a decade of austerity we need central government support to do so.”